The day started with pale yellow light and two shrieks from a barn owl that pierced the chorus of crickets when Koko and I went walking this morning. Pearlescent clouds were dripping off Waialeale and forming little white lakes in the depths of the pastures and at the base of the cinder cone.
On our return, birds began adding their twitterings to the background music of the crickets and the northeastern sky exploded in a blast of orange-pink that caught the mountain slopes on fire.
A mainland couple, writing a letter to the editor entitled “Nightmare in Paradise,” are all fired up about the scam that is timeshare ownership, what with its exorbitant ownership dues — some properties charge $600 per month —puppet boards and just one way out: foreclosure.
Meanwhile, the homeless who staked out a space beneath one of Honolulu’s freeway overpasses are experiencing their own “nightmare in paradise” as the state once again rousted those with nowhere else to go.
In between are the average working people, like a woman I know who recently managed to buy a house in Hanamaulu that required the incomes of three adults working four fulltime jobs between them to make the payments. And while she gets medical insurance through her job, she’s paying $390 per month to get coverage her child.
Who is making it here in paradise? Surely not the farmers, as yesterday’s letter to the editor from Sherwood Conant pointed out. Sherwood, who used to farm out on Kauapea Road in Kilauea, recounted his own nightmare of being forced out by the high tax assessments levied on his land after a “gentleman” bought the land next door and built a “gentleman’s estate.”
The house site which I had dreamed to live acquired a “fair market” value after my neighbor moved in. Since I could not afford these taxes, I had to sell my farm (the rich neighbors were not too happy about other farm activity also).
On the same road where Sherwood farmed can be found high end ag land vacation rentals, including some owned by Michele Hughes, the developer of that fake agricultural subdivision known as Kealia Kai. As her website for luxury homes, which she actually has the nerve to call "farm dwellings," notes:
The 50 acres of land owned by Michele and Justin Hughes is zoned agricultural but most of it is unsuitable for farming because of its location on the rocky bluff above Secret Beach and Anini Beach. Despite the adversarial conditions, they have made, at considerable expense, a concerted effort to irrigate, add steps and trails for access, and plant the hillsides and whatever small flat areas available.
Do you suppose they got a conservation district permit for their trail to the beach? Which, btw, is not far from the access trail that the county gave up because it feared liability. Or perhaps it just decided it wouldn't funnel the public riff raff onto the beach near these wealthy vacationers.
Just down the road a piece is the ritzy gated Seacliff Plantations ag subdivision where the planning commission recently approved a fake farm/mini hotel that calls for a 4,500-square-foot swimming pool and plans to "farm" an acre of sod.
As Sherwood can so painfully attest:
Anytime non-agricultural use (and/or non-farmers) occurs near farm property, the farmer will suffer.
Yet County Council members who claim to love farmers and support ag are simultaneously working to cut them off at the knees with their bill to allow vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag land. The point that is often missed in the discussion about the bill now before the Council is that it would replace the existing bill governing TVRs, which does not allow those on ag land to seek use permits.
That’s why it’s so disturbing to see Councilman Tim Bynum make comments like these to the newspaper:
“After I heard the public hearing and I read all the testimony, I revisited the bill with the attorneys and the staff,” Bynum said. “We found areas based on input that we can make the bill clearer and a little tougher.”
Bynum introduced an amendment suggesting that the Planning Department “may physically inspect” the transient visitor rental prior to issuing a certificate. The original bill had no requirement for physical inspection, which drew much criticism from the public.
In fact, the existing law on TVRs says the Planning Department shall inspect the property. So Tim is not only weakening the law, he’s lying about it.
And if he’s lying about things that are clearly black and white, it kinda makes you wonder if the whole thing isn’t a sham — just like those fake farm dwellings and "barns" that the county keeps approving.
In my last post about TVRs, in which I noted that former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura had testified in opposition to Tim’s bill, someone in comments wrote that JoAnn has always opposed ag land TVRs.
Not so. Some may recall that she and Councilman Jay Furfaro drafted the bill that called for unenforcement agreements. In other words, the planning director would agree not to enforce against ag land TVRs until the Important Ag Land study is completed. Under that bill, TVRs operating on lands deemed important would have to stop, while those on less important lands could continue.
The bill was so heavily amended after going through 16 hearings at the Council that it was pulled back and Tim’s bill was introduced in its place. But that bill is still alive, and it seems quite likely that if Tim’s bill dies, it will be resurrected.
Meanwhile, farmer Jerry, who sits on the Important Ag Land committee, said that at the last meeting of that panel, Planning Director Ian Costa finally said that nothing will change after the designations are made. “It won’t be open season,” Jerry told me. “The [less important] land won’t be rezoned.”
So how, then, could TVRs be allowed on some ag lands and not others, without triggering more threats of a dreaded lawsuit?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Council should stop screwing with the TVR bill until it gets clear about what kind of agricultural future it envisions for this island.
Because right now, they're working to create a “nightmare in paradise” for agriculture.